The idea that time is affected by gravity was first proposed by Albert Einstein in 1915, as part of his theory of general relativity. Space and time are linked, and large masses warp the fabric of space-time with their immense gravitational influence.
This causes time to pass more slowly near a large mass such as a planet, a star or, in the most extreme example, a black hole. This phenomenon is known as time dilation.
Here on Earth,time dilation effectively means that time moves faster at higher altitudes.
So, for example, time passes faster on top of any mountain than on the beach, but it also applies to smaller distances: someone living on the tenth floor ages faster than someone on the first floor, and his head ages faster than his feet.
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Of course, the differences in the passage of time over these distances are so small that they are imperceptible, but they can be measured with atomic clocks.
Well, in a new study, JILA researchers have measured time dilation over the smallest distance so far: just one millimeter (until then it was had done with kilometric distances).
To make this measurement, the team used an atomic clock made up of an ultracold cloud of about 100,000 strontium atoms. The ticking of the clock itself is due to the atoms changing between two energy levels.
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By careful control of these energy states, the team was able to make all the atoms in the cloud tick in unison for 37 seconds, a record time.
They detected a difference between the two regions , due to time dilation. The frequency shift was, of course, tiny, only 0.00000000000000000001, but it was measurable.
The team claims that this work did not It might not only help make atomic clocks 50 times more accurate than they are now, but it might open up new tools to delve into the mysteries of physics.